Man involved in ripping off drug cartel testifies

McALLEN — Jurors heard testimony Thursday detailing how an SUV ended up in an orchard in San Juan during day two of a cocaine conspiracy trial.

The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roberto Lopez Jr. and Kristen Rees, called to the witness stand a man who pleaded guilty last December to charges related to this case.

Hugo Alejandro De Hoyos, 42, of Pharr, testified Thursday about his involvement in coordinating the theft of 40 kilos of cocaine that were headed outside of the Rio Grande Valley.

De Hoyos, a local construction company business owner, is one of five people connected to the current case against Salvador Hernandez and Richard Leon Castillo.

Hernandez is represented by Houston-based attorney Douglas Allen A’Hern, while Castillo is represented by McAllen-based attorney Reynaldo M. Merino.

A three-year veteran of the department, Hernandez remains suspended without pay as he fights his case in court. Castillo, who also worked with San Juan police for about three years, was terminated shortly following his federal conviction during the duo’s first trial. Castillo was convicted of lying to federal agents.

The other four co-defendants who also pleaded guilty to charges in the indictment in December — Vanessa Rios, Arturo Bazan-Martinez Jr., Jose Armando Bazan and Victor Manuel Gonzalez Jr. — are set to be sentenced in June, court records show.

Hernandez and Castillo are accused of playing a role in a conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine from a seizure back on Aug. 27, 2016.

At about 6:55 a.m. that day, law enforcement came upon the scene of a single-vehicle crash in an orchard in San Juan at the intersection of Moore and Stewart Roads.

The government claims that Hernandez, with the help of Castillo, came upon the scene shortly after U.S. Border Patrol arrived and helped remove duffel bags containing what later turned out to be highly diluted cocaine.

Much of the testimony from De Hoyos related to his involvement in the days before the crash, as he was tasked with receiving the cocaine “bricks” and making sure they made it out of the Valley.

But that plan changed after De Hoyos conspired with the aforementioned co-defendants to instead steal 3 kilos of cocaine, dilute the remaining 37 bricks of cocaine, stage a crash where the “sham,” or fake cocaine, would be seized by law enforcement to create an excuse to their suppliers, who would want to know why they had lost the load.

De Hoyos testified that he became involved in cocaine trafficking because he wanted to help out his brother, Robert De Hoyos, who was convicted of federal drug charges in Florida, by helping agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration by providing information that could help them seize narcotics.

He said he told his DEA contact in Florida days before the Aug. 27, 2016 seizure of the cocaine about possibly 40 kilos of cocaine that were headed to Florida.

De Hoyos said he had hoped this information would help him, help his brother, as he was providing information to federal agents to potentially assist in taking down a large quantity of cocaine.

But a day before the aforementioned seizure, Bazan-Martinez Jr., a local body shop owner from San Juan, arrived at De Hoyos’ residence and gave him 40 kilos of cocaine. The plan then changed to instead dilute most of the cocaine and repackage the rest.

De Hoyos testified that on Aug. 26, 2016, he worked through the night and early morning to repackage the cocaine, stuff it inside duffel bags that were going to be placed in an SUV that would get seized by law enforcement.

The Pharr man said that Gonzalez Jr. arrived in the early hours of Aug. 27, 2017, ready to execute a plan that was discussed the day before.

Gonzalez was going to drive the SUV containing the diluted cocaine to an orchard in San Juan, while De Hoyos followed him in his own vehicle.

De Hoyos told jurors Gonzalez crashed the vehicle into a tree, exited and walked over to his vehicle and got in, leaving the area as he called 9-1-1 to report the crash.

Moments later, after a quick stop at a local Stripes convenience store, the two men drove back to the area to see that Border Patrol and police units were already at the scene.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, Hernandez also faces a charge of lying to federal agents.

Count three of the indictment against Hernandez states he lied when he said that he and Castillo searched a shed for the suspected drug trafficker, and that Border Patrol agents arrived while at the scene.

Federal agents believe this is a lie, claiming Border Patrol agents did not arrive at that location.

This would contradict the government’s witnesses from the first day of testimony after two Border Patrol agents, Gilbert Barron and Ernesto Flores, each testified they both were at location and helped in the search for the driver who had fled the scene of the crash.

Hernandez is also accused of lying to DEA agents when he said he had not opened the back hatch of his unit from the time the bags were placed inside his unit, until he arrived at the police station.

Agents believe that Hernandez did open the hatch of his unit between the time the bags were placed there and the time he arrived at the police station, the indictment states.

Testimony from Border Patrol agent Flores, who was called during the first day of testimony, was that after searching the orchards with his fellow Border Patrol agents, an hour after the initial crash, he noticed the San Juan patrol unit’s back hatch open, with the duffle bags visible.

Flores said he found it “not right” that they still remained at the scene an hour after Barron had asked Hernandez to secure the bags — something he said was not common protocol in narcotics seizures.

Asked what he would have done, Flores said they would have removed the narcotics and taken them to a station immediately.

Lopez, during the morning portion of day two, played for jurors audio recordings of radio calls between Border Patrol agents, and dispatch of the time from when the first agent arrived on the scene to when they ended their search and left the scene. This was approximately from 6:55 to 8:17 a.m.

A Border Patrol agent who helped search the orchards from a helicopter, a second forensic specialist with the DEA, and a task force officer with the DEA who set up the arrangement with De Hoyos, as well as Jose Armando Bazan, Arturo Bazan-Martinez Jr.’s son, were all called to the stand during day two of testimony.

Day three of testimony begins Friday morning in U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez’s courtroom.